Can F1’s Las Vegas Grand Prix possibly live up to the hype?

Capitalising on the success of Netflix hit Drive to Survive, which brought a huge new demographic to the series, American F1 owner Liberty Media was keen to exploit its new-found popularity in the United States and add to the existing race in Austin.

The first step was a race in Miami, the perfect example of the kind of “destination cities” that F1 wanted to gain a foothold in.

While the racing spectacle at Miami Gardens was hardly unforgettable in 2022, the 2023 race provided a better show to keep up with the off-track glitz and glamour that entertained hordes of celebrities and VIPs.

Racing around the Miami Dolphins stadium was one step towards conquering the US, but F1’s move to Las Vegas represents a whole different ballgame.

Vegas was a dream target of Liberty Media, to the extent that it made the unprecedented decision to promote the race itself and buy a plot of land near the famous Strip to build a permanent pit and paddock facility.

It is estimated F1 has spent north of half a billion dollars on the event, which it plans to host until at least 2032, showcasing just how much F1 believes the event will work on the long-term.

The hype it has stirred up has topped the one around Miami and there’s certainly some justification for it.

F1 managed to get its 6.2km [3.8mi] street course to include a 2km part of the Strip, which the city council has agreed to close down for the race.

Las Vegas GP rendering

Photo by: Las Vegas GP

Las Vegas GP rendering

While the layout itself is hardly the most inspiring, and likely wouldn’t work turn heads elsewhere, the sight of 20 F1 cars racing along the likes of the Bellagio, the MGM Grand and the new MSG Sphere at night is going to provide F1 with dazzling images.

It is certainly a far cry from the twisty Caesars Palace car park layout used in the 80s. And whatever happens to the race, pulling that off is a remarkable achievement by F1 and a sign of its pulling power in 2023.

The county itself is also banking on the success of its “billion dollar” event to justify the $40 million of public money spent on repaving the Strip and appease the local residents who have been caught out by lengthy disruptions over the past months.

But F1’s very own Superbowl also comes at a price for the fans. A hefty one.

When sales opened, general admission tickets went for $500 USD (including food and beverages), while single day grandstand tickets for Sunday range between $1,155 and $1,760, with weekend tickets closer to $3,000. That comes on top of securing a hotel room in the vicinity of the circuit, prices of which have fortunately come down in recent weeks.

The cheapest tickets go for $165. For the opening ceremony on Wednesday which features a range of artists but no cars.

It shows the event itself, in the US’s sports and entertainment capital, isn’t aimed at F1’s traditional fan base watching on TV, a split which was already clear from Miami’s exaggerated prices.

Talking about TV, ironically the 10pm local race start and midnight qualifying session, while palatable for EU and Asian audiences, will be toughest on the majority of the US population, which lives on the east coast three hours ahead.

But for Americans who want to experience F1 live, it is cheaper to fly to a race in Europe rather than sit in the cold, as temperatures of 8C or 45F are expected this time of the year.

With the Vegas race held one week later in 2024, you have to wonder how many people just wanted to be there and be seen for its inaugural race and how many will actually return next year at current prices.

They just might, if they see an incredible spectacle, as inflated prices come with inflated expectations.

When it comes to the on-track action, the cold doesn’t have to be exclusively negative. If there is one thing the 2023 season, which many fans feel has started to outstay its welcome, can use it’s a sprinkling of chaos to raise the stakes.

Las Vegas GP rendering

Photo by: Las Vegas GP

Las Vegas GP rendering

Thankfully, F1’s dreaded track limits won’t be much of an issue on the tight street course, as any run-offs would have extended into the lobby of a swanky casino.

But tyre warm-up in frosty conditions could well throw a curveball.

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Present a straightforward race and Red Bull is likely to blitz it. The cold, combined with unknown factors like the state of the tarmac, will give the teams some new headaches that could mix up the order, much like 2023’s dominant force was humbled in Singapore.

Furthermore, there are no support series on the schedule, so grip levels on the brand-new Strip tarmac will be very low as it is, and we will see a massive track evolution across the weekend.

F1 would certainly benefit from an all-action Vegas return, as Max Verstappen’s astonishing dominance in 2023 has seen interest cool and domestic TV ratings drop, so ensuring its US boom is sustainable will be at least as challenging as creating it in the first place.

It is therefore understandable that both F1 and its stakeholders are leaving no stone unturned to big up Vegas even beyond the level of Miami.

But the more you hype up an event, the higher the chance that it won’t fulfil those expectations.

At least Miami had the mirage of a championship battle going for it, but with both titles long decided, it will truly need to pull off more than pretty pictures and first-class hospitality to justify the buzz.

Las Vegas GP rendering

Photo by: Las Vegas GP

Las Vegas GP rendering

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